Insight: Takeover Unpacked

Take three primary schools in Tower Hamlets, invite them to work as a team to create a festival for everyone in their schools.  Combine at will with three teams of exceptional musicians and visual artists and watch as their imaginations take flight.

Spitalfields Music has been working within Tower Hamlets for 40 years and through a formally established Learning & Participation programme for over 25 years, in the belief that the arts should be made for and with a local community.  This is a pretty exciting mission wherever you are, but Tower Hamlets is one of the most exciting and dynamic areas of London, making it a fascinating and rich proposition.

One daily preoccupation is how we use music as a catalyst for engagement with our local communities.  We do this through working with artists who are inspired by dialogue between place, people and their own artistic practice.  Takeover plays with this concept, placing young people at the centre, combining them with our world-class artists, staff and parents to re-examine what ‘great art for everyone’ might be.

Our provocation is that great art can and is being made by 7 – 8 year olds and that artists, when supported by a cultural institution steeped in partnership working, it is possible to innovate and invigorate professional artistic practice.  This is achieved through actively building in critical reflective practice, enabling our artists to take even greater creative risks.

Takeover Spring Festival is being treated in exactly the same way as our Summer and Winter Festivals, with a communications and marketing strategy, public bookings through our box office, festival programmes, documentation, full engagement with our volunteer stewards and evaluation.  The work of these young artists will be presented with exactly the same care, and attention to detail as our Summer Festival Associate Artists, Emily Hall, Shabaka Hutchings and La Nuova Musica.

Over the last six months we have been carefully assembling these extraordinary moments with Osmani Primary School, Stewart Headlam Primary School and The Cherry Trees Primary School.  Takeover Spring Festival is Spitalfields Music’s first festival to be created entirely by children. These day-long festivals of music, art installations, and performance, bring together parents, teachers and their local communities and will showcase the creativity of over 150 young minds.

Takeover Spring Festival builds on three successful pilot Takeover projects at Canon Barnett Primary School (Spring 2013), Shapla Primary School (Autumn 2013) and Kobi Nazrul Primary School (Spring 2014) which tested the model in a variety of ways.  This festival is the first time that we have combined a series of mini-festivals, running throughout the same week.

Takeover places artists and creativity at the heart of school life.  It is a way of creating a natural space for dialogue between young people, artists and communities, spotlighting the benefits of creative learning, which go far beyond the national curriculum.

There are 3 core principles that run through each festival

  • Quality: the combination of excellent music making and excellent planning
  • Partnerships: 360 degree engagement with children, teachers, parents, support staff, artists and Spitalfields Music staff
  • Enriching artistic practice: for our team of artists and teachers

We have seen through our pilot festivals that Takeover creates a sense of pride for the young people that are involved.  It helps support them explore their identities within the school, social groupings and beyond.  As one young musician told us after his performance:

I was singing all the songs to my sister and she wouldn’t let me stop. In the performance, I sang a solo.. I said to my brother that when I grow up I’m going to be a songwriter!”

For teachers it’s a way of seeing their class from a different perspective.  One teacher said after their festival:

I loved how the music leader got them to come up with their own words for their songs and actually how complex some of those words were, those phrases and it really made it clear to me that those children have it in them to come up with really complex language and its quite abstract.  Words like that are very poetic, very abstract for children, it’s not the literal meaning but they understood it but actually whenever I teach poetry again I will take on board what the music leader was doing and put that into my lessons…it was actually the least confident or the quietest ones that were very enthusiastic and came up with some of those amazing sentences.”

At the core of our values, is the belief that all young people have the right to access and participate in exceptional art in all of its facets.   Takeover presents a new way of combining excellence in partnerships, producing, artist development and care in planning.  With this set of fundamental components in place we increase the potential for a step change in the way that arts are perceived within schools and local communities.  Each festival has moved far beyond its initial ambition, creating a dynamic conversation with music making at its heart.

I can feel the flurry of artistic endeavour of our young artists, only 20 minutes walk from Spitalfields Market.  These artists are putting the final touches to their performances, ranging from the telling of a new gruesome Viking myth to a celebration of contemporary and ancient voices of the Nile.  Large trees on wheels are being assembled by parents, palm leaves have been crafted, complicated design puzzles are being wrestled with and energetic music rehearsals are in full swing.

This year, the end of Spring term will be like no other experienced by these schools and their communities, at the heart of their own creative ambition, demonstrating that great art is not only the domain for our opera houses, orchestras, cultural venues – but should be a living breathing creative conversation at the heart of all our communities. It is Spitalfields Music’s long-term ambition to encourage other cultural organisations to see how they might deliver this way of working with their own towns, villages and cities, generating national conversations about innovation and best practice in high-quality creative learning.

Clare Lovett
Programme Director: Learning & Participation